When junior special education major Monica Donnelly found out that Betsy DeVos was selected as Education Secretary, she was in “absolute shock,” as were many others in the Loyola community.
Vice President Mike Pence cast a tie-breaking vote Feb. 7, securing DeVos’s place as Education Secretary, ending a heated debate among senators.
“The public’s anxiety is rooted in the fact that she doesn’t know basic concepts about education,” Donnelly, 21, said. “My fear is for the kids, especially because kids can’t advocate for themselves.”
Loyola associate professor of sociology education Kate Phillippo also said she found the news “disappointing” and “disturbing.”
“My hopes are very limited,” Phillippo said. “Her political agenda suggests she isn’t in support for free public education for all [of] America’s children. Her track record suggests she will encourage privatization of … school which burdens low income children and families.”
DeVos, known to have donated more than $200 million to the Republican Party, has caused widespread controversy since President Donald J. Trump nominated her in November.
The Michigan-native billionaire said she plans to push for expanded school choice around the country, as she did in her hometown.
“Parents no longer believe that a one-size-fits-all model of learning meets the need of every child,” DeVos said at her Senate confirmation hearing on Jan. 17. “They know other options exist, whether magnet, virtual, charter, home, faith-based or any combination. Yet, too many parents are denied access to the full range of options.”
DeVos has never taught nor worked as an educator or supervisor in a school system, making her a non-traditional choice to lead the nation’s education system. Her goal is to legalize vouchers, which allow parents to spend public funding on private schooling for their children.
While DeVos assured the Senate committee that she is still an advocate of “great public schools,” critics worry that she’ll undermine public schooling due to her 30-year track record supporting privatization of schools in Michigan.
Loyola assistant professor of philosophy of education Amy Shuffelton said DeVos made her name by pushing for privatization of the public school system and on the grounds that it would give people more choice.
“I do believe deeply in public schooling. It makes us what it is. They are the heart of community [and] the heart of neighborhoods,” Shuffelton said. “Unfortunately, I can’t foresee her doing anything that will affect education in a positive way. I hope I’m wrong about this.”
Despite the widespread disapproval for DeVos, Donnelly said she plans to remain optimistic.
“I’m mostly hoping she’ll use all of her powerful connections to do good,” Donnelly said. “If not, teachers are stubborn and we’re going to do what’s best for the kids, and if it means we have to fight back, we’ll fight back.”